Appeals court to consider Florida redistricting suit

By Terry Baynes, Reuters

A day after the Supreme Court heard arguments in a Texas redistricting battle, another redistricting case potentially with national implications takes center stage, this time in Florida. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit will hear a challenge in a racially charged lawsuit over an amendment to Florida’s constitution. Lawmakers have sued to try to block the amendment — approved by voters in 2010 — which they say violates the U.S. Constitution because it strips the legislature of its right to regulate elections. An African-American Democrat and a Hispanic Republican, later joined by Florida’s House of Representatives, sued Florida in 2010, arguing that the so-called Fair Districts amendment dilutes the voting power of minorities. They also say it violates the Elections Clause of the Constitution, which gives state legislatures the power to regulate the time, place and manner of congressional elections. The Florida issues echo, but differ, from those in the Texas fight, which the Supreme Court justices will decide by the end of this term. In Texas, the dispute involves challenges under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, particularly a requirement that states with a history of discrimination obtain court approval for redistricting plans. The case centers on maps drawn up by a San Antonio federal court, which Republican state officials say went too far and should have deferred to maps approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature. New Commissions A number of states around the country, including California and Arizona, have established commissions that limit state legislatures’ influence over the redistricting process. A win for the challengers in the Florida case could be a blow for that movement. Redistricting is a redrawing by state legislatures of congressional and state district lines prompted by population changes. In so doing, voters are often grouped in new ways that can directly influence which candidates win an election. Partisan legislators may try to use the process to maximize the votes for a particular party or incumbent. In Texas, for example, the Republican-controlled legislature drew up a new plan expected to give the party the majority of the four new congressional seats the state gained after the 2010 census.

There have been dozens of challenges to new congressional maps. In the wake of the 2010 census, 115 redistricting challenges have been filed in state and federal courts around the country. That is down from 149 filed after the 2000 census, but more challenges are likely to be filed, according Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, who tracks redistricting cases. “This is only the beginning,” Levitt said.